By American Heart Association News, Health Day reporter
MONDAY, August 23, 2021 (American Heart Association News) – Unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with no place to live, Jeff Sari took refuge at a community organization in Seattle that offered more than a bed and meals hot.
The Chief Seattle Club, a non-profit organization focused on supporting Native Americans and Alaska Natives, was there for Sari after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in November. Staff made sure he arrived on time for his doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments.
He got a job with the organization to help serve breakfast and lunch to the homeless and do laundry. He attends counseling sessions on Mondays and social gatherings on Wednesdays that “give everyone a chance to sit in a circle and talk,” said Sari, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan.
“Even when you’re depressed, it’s uplifting,” Sari said. “It just helps to be around people who care.”
Its story illustrates the Chief Seattle Club’s mission as a place that provides “a sacred space to nurture, affirm and renew the spirit of urban natives.”
“We want to heal our community,” said Derrick Belgarde, who became executive director in May but has worked for the organization since 2015. “Revitalize our mind, as a culture, as a people – a body, a heart, a spirit .”
Founded in 1970, the Chief Seattle Club undertook a dramatic expansion of its services about six years ago to take a more proactive approach to meeting needs. For example, among homeless people in King County, which includes Seattle, an estimated 15% are Native Americans and Alaska Natives. This is despite the Native Americans and Alaska Natives who make up only 1% of the county’s population.
“We are falling through the cracks of non-indigenous (support) systems,” Belgarde said. “We realized that the only way to stabilize our community is to take the reins and help ourselves.”
In 2017, the club launched Native Works, a booth at Seattle’s Pike Place Market that serves as a professional training program for members. The following year, she hired a chef as chef de cuisine to serve more traditional cuisine.
Eagle Village opened in 2019 to serve as a transitional residence for up to 25 people. In the midst of the pandemic in September 2020, the Chief Seattle Club served a record 9,982 meals.
The organization’s most ambitious project to date is slated for completion in October. The? Ál? Al building includes 80 studios for low-income households and will include space for health care and social services. “? ál? al” is a Lushootseed word for “house”. Lushootseed is spoken by indigenous groups in the Puget Sound area of Washington.
Around the same time, the club is expected to launch a second supportive housing project with 120 units.
“We will continue to develop until all our loved ones are safe and secure,” Belgarde said. The Chief Seattle Club recently received funding from the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund of the American Heart Association. The fund invests in local evidence-based efforts to reduce social and economic barriers to health equity.
Belgarde knows well what impact the club can have.
“I was addicted to alcohol, I found myself on the streets and separated from my family. It was actually the club that gave me the resources I needed thanks to one of our partners. “said Belgarde, who joined as a member over ten years ago. . “This is where I really decided to turn my life around.”
For others like Sari, the organization offered an opportunity for stability at a time of financial need. He was in Seattle last summer to work as a commercial fisherman on a vessel bound for Alaska, but the boat never set sail due to COVID, leaving him without a source of income.
Sari eventually connected with Eagle Village and the Chief Seattle Club. They have been by her side since her cancer diagnosis. And they’ve supported him since his stroke in March. He recovered almost entirely, except for a loss of sensation in his left hand.
“They’re there with you all along. I can’t say it enough,” Sari said. “This is exceptional.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments on this story, please email [email protected]
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